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Floriography: The Language of Flowers (according to Parrish)

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“Oh, nepenthes!”

“What?” Lorne swung round at Parrish’s exclamation, P-90 at the ready even though Parrish’s tone didn’t indicate anything other than annoyance. The sole of Parrish’s boot almost connected with his nose and he hastily stepped back from the large boulder on which Parrish balanced. “What’s wrong?” Lorne asked again when Parrish didn’t answer.

Parrish wobbled precariously as he turned to look down at Lorne. Guilt was written over his features. “I dropped the camera.”

“Can you reach it?”

Bits of moss flew into the air as Parrish scrabbled around. Lorne quickly rubbed the back of his hand over his tongue after spitting out a particularly large and rather disgusting piece. He decided it was in his best interests to keep his mouth shut. He prudently shaded his eyes as he stared upwards.

“Got it. No, wait, it slipped out of my fingers.” Another odd expletive accompanied Parrish’s moan of dismay.

“Need a hand?”

“If you could hold me steady while I reach down. Extendable arms would be useful. It’s only just out of reach. Three inches, maybe four.” After hopefully flailing for a bit, Parrish revised his estimate to six, or possibly eight inches.

If it hadn’t been the third camera Parrish had lost in less than a month, not to mention being Cadman’s, Lorne would have insisted it be written off. Instead, he smothered a sigh, laid down his P-90 and after a moment’s deliberation, removed his tac vest. It took him less than a minute to join Parrish on the top of the boulder. Tiny pink flowers growing in a sheltered crack caught his attention. Obviously the focus of Parrish’s interest, Lorne shook his head in disbelief. How had Parrish known they were there? A tug on his arm almost unbalanced him and he forgot the flowers as he reflexively rammed his knees into the stone. He grabbed at Parrish to steady himself. With more luck than good management the two remained perched atop the boulder.

“There, see?” Pointing, Parrish quickly regained his equilibrium while keeping an eye on the camera. He stretched out on his stomach, leaving Lorne to crouch awkwardly on the remaining six inches of rock. Caught in a crevice, the camera was more like twelve inches away. “Can you hold my belt while I -.” He wriggled forward, fingers straining to grasp the cord.

“Oof!” Parrish’s boot connected with Lorne’s stomach. His fingers lost their grip on the belt when Parrish’s triumphant ‘got it’ choked off into a strangled ‘oops’ as he slipped head first down the far side of the rock. Lorne somehow managed to grab hold of Parrish’s ankles and he dragged him back. The moss was just slippery enough to interfere with his purchase on the rock and they ended in a heap at the base of the boulder, thankfully with the camera clutched firmly in Parrish’s hand.

 

**

 

Evan didn’t try to stop the hiss escaping his lips when the hot water ran over the large scrape on his side. Granted it was only minor as far as injuries went, but it stung. Being squashed by Parrish had also left him with assorted colorful bruises and a small lump on his head where he’d banged it on the rock as they’d fallen. Carson had cleared him of any major damage and sent him on his way with some pain killers, but they hadn’t kicked in when he’d been corralled in a corridor by Parrish. He wanted to know how soon they could return to the planet as he’d managed to delete the last dozen photos he’d taken, as well as not getting to collect a sample of the plant growing on boulder, which meant now he had no record of it at all.

Before Evan could give an answer, they’d been joined by Cadman, who’d waved her camera in his face and demanded he look at the scratched lens. Parrish had tried to snatch the camera. He hadn’t finished uploading the images onto his computer, he’d been going to return the camera when he’d done so and what had Cadman been doing in the Botany lab at his workstation anyway? The more he said, the louder, faster and more anxious he’d become.

It had been rather an eye-opener to see Parrish lose his cool so thoroughly. He’d loomed over Cadman, who’d unsurprisingly stood her ground as they traded insults, until Parrish had called her a Rodneyana vill--, whereupon she’d slapped his face before he’d gotten the whole thing out. At that point Evan had shaken off his fascination, confiscated the camera and ordered them to report to his office the following day. He’d made sure they’d departed in opposite directions before continuing to his quarters.

 

Worn sweats rather than jeans were definitely the thing, thought Evan as he surveyed his wardrobe. He tossed his towel into the bathroom, figuring to hang it up the next time he went in there. The faded tee-shirt he preferred to sleep in was soft enough not to irritate his side. The pair of thick hiking socks that had inexplicably pilled completed his outfit. With a sigh, he booted up his laptop. He hadn’t planned on spending his evening writing reports; there was something more personal on his agenda.

Food would make the job go faster and then he could get down to what he really wanted to do. The last two MREs in his stash didn’t leave him with much choice, but he couldn’t face leaving his room right now, even for a quick trip to the Mess. He jabbed a fork into the beans and rice, resolutely ignoring the bits that fell onto his shirt as he debated whether to check his inbox or write his reports. It didn’t take long to decide the contents of his inbox were less likely to give him indigestion.

Evan groaned as he surveyed the picture of himself and Parrish tangled in a heap at the foot of the boulder. He should have stuck with work. There were several images; Coughlin had arrived in time to catch them mid-fall as well. He shook his head. Some of the comments were pretty funny. He was tempted to add his own. The mid-fall shot, where their arms and legs stuck out at seemingly impossible angles called for the simplest oh, shit!, which he knew for a fact he’d said – amongst other things, however, that wasn’t what he itched to put.

He leant over and reached for a storage box that did duty as an extra desk drawer. From beneath a pile of unfinished magazines and old journals he drew a slim loose-leaf notebook. Neatly inked in old English script, the first page read Doctor Parrish’s Guide to Alternative Profanities for Plant Lovers. He quickly leafed through the pages until he came to the section he wanted: Substitutions for Shit.

Hydnora
Hydnora africana emits a pungent, fecal-scented odor to attract carrion beetles and dung beetles.

Luckily it was one of the easier ones to pronounce and Evan used it a few times as he examined the illustration on the facing page. It was one of his better ones, he thought. The main Hydrona in the foreground looked like it starred in a cheesy horror sci-fi movie. Its outer layer resembled brown scales and its wide mouth opened into a red throat, ready to eat - something. Frondy-type things could be mistaken for pointy teeth. Perfect.

Smelling more like dead rodents than shit, Aristolochia grandiflora had ended up on the next page in the 'shit' section after Evan heard Parrish use that one when he’d knocked over a tray of seedlings, wasting several hours of work. It had taken him a week to track this one down in the botany manual he’d accessed. Parrish had left off the 'grandiflora’ and Evan had misheard the ‘Aristolochia’, besides which, botanical names weren’t particularly easy to spell. It looked too pretty to convey the feelings he wanted to express now; he’d spent ages drawing its colorful patterns on bits of scrap paper to get them looking just right. Forgetting about his email and the blank report forms for the time being, he continued looking at the pages he’d finished.

His first effort began the chapter he’d dubbed Proxies for Prick. He’d noticed Parrish’s weird habit of dropping the most outrageous sounding words instead of everyday expletives - his whole team had - but it had taken Coughlin to actually ask Parrish why he was referring to one of the engineers as a mutinus caninus when the man was clearly a prick and why didn’t he say so. Parrish had replied that was exactly what he’d done. During his second year, his roommate had referred to one of the biotech professors as a Helicodiceros muscivorus, a plant that smelled like rotting meat that was meant to attract female blowflies, he explained after getting confused looks from Lorne, Coughlin and Reed. Parrish had come back with Mutinus caninus and the joke had continued from there until the pair of them eventually used botanical names in place of expletives all the time. A picture of a Mutinus caninus, which, it turned out, bore an uncanny resemblance to a dog’s penis had been forwarded by Parrish shortly afterwards, and it had been then Evan had his idea.

Drawing plants hadn’t been as easy as he’d anticipated. Thankfully he’d had eight months to come up with the finished product. Getting the dog-dick fungus looking right had eaten most of his spare time for the first two weeks. Illustrations lifted from a botany text didn’t convey the look he envisaged. He wanted to resemble an old-fashioned pamphlet, the kind in which snake-oil remedies and miracle cures used to be found. He’d even sketched out an advertisement or two, with a recognizable Parrish as the doctor recommending a patented concoction of plants and herbs to cure an outlandish assortment of diseases. Quinsy, dropsy or scrofula sounded whimsical enough to be cured by a mixture of lovage, borage and dew-soaked fennel tops that had been steeped for 100 hours and infused with the good doctor’s secret recipe.

Evan liked all the members of his team. They’d become close in a short space of time. He enjoyed gifting friends with his artwork, especially when he could fit the subject to the recipient. He’d given paintings to Coughlin and Reed for their birthdays - Atlantis as seen from a jumper for Reed and the Stargate for Coughlin. He admitted to himself he liked the botanist on his team more than just a little and he knew he wanted something more personal as his gift for Parrish - David. This was as individual and personal as he could get without giving his feelings away for now. He hadn’t made up his mind what to do about approaching David. There were any number of issues to consider, but for now, the work he was putting into the booklet was enough.

With the plants, he’d started with pen and ink drawings. They looked fine, but he hadn’t been able to resist coloring one of the preliminary sketches of Mutinus caninus. The black-tipped penis looked so much ruder with its red stem. His 'cunt' substitutes, mostly varieties of orchids, needed their glorious pinks, crimsons and purples to show them in all their beauty. Phals, as he’d found they were sometimes called, made a good general substitute for cunt.

Now he had more to add to the list. Nether…never…nepper… Evan struggled to remember exactly what David had said when he’d dropped the camera. He fished around in the box for the flash drive that held his private copies of illustrated botanical references. Nepenthes attenboroughii turned out to be easy to track down and he stared at the pictures of the rat-eating pitcher plant. His fingers tingled as he surveyed its simple curved lines and he grabbed a handy pencil. He completely forgot about his aches and pains as he added the upper half of a rat sticking out of the plant’s maw. ‘Somebody save me!’ he put in a speech bubble; naturally, those additions wouldn’t make it into the final copy of the booklet.

“Nepenthes. Nepenthes. Nepenthes!” Evan tried out the word with various inflections. It had an earthier sound to it than 'hydnora'. He thought about losing Cadman’s camera. That definitely called for something stronger that ‘shit’, not to mention Interpretations of Intercourse had fewer entries than the ‘Shit’ chapter. That settled it - into the ‘Fuck’ chapter it would go.

Cadman’s camera. Evan puzzled over David’s behaviour. Cadman was entitled to feel upset at the damage to her property, so why hadn’t simply apologized and offered to organize a replacement lens? They traded for glass from the Mintarrens. The scientists were in love with the finely polished glass they could get. Lenses of all types were now easily procured. He hadn’t even asked her to wait until he finished with it, instead snatching at it like it was his, was something he didn’t want to share.

Evan couldn’t hold back a snigger as he pictured Cadman’s reaction to being called a Rodneyana villosa. Everyone on the expedition was familiar with the native cactus Katie Brown had named after McKay. “I think you got that one wrong, David. Whatever else Cadman might be, she’s neither a prick nor a dickhead. Asshole, maybe.”

Bristles sharp enough to pierce the skin covered the Rodneyosa. Initially, sly references to its small sized had almost caused McKay an apoplexy, however with Katie’s love and care it had now attained a respectable size. Regardless, its shape was enough to qualify it for a place in the section devoted to all names related to things phallic. He needed to visit the Rodneyosa, get some sketches and maybe take a picture or three as he discovered the pictures in the Botany database were the ones taken when it was originally catalogued.

Cadman’s camera caught his eye. He wondered how badly the lens was cracked. There wouldn’t be anyone in the lab where the Rodneyosa lived at this time. He could slip down there now, take his pictures, load them onto his computer and delete them straight away. He couldn’t use his own camera as it was the one David lost three missions ago. The four of them had watched it tumble down a cliff face and fall into a fast flowing river. The replacement hadn’t come on the Daedalus’ last run. David was highly apologetic even though its absence wasn’t his fault; his replacement hadn’t arrived either.

He examined a shot of the papers on his desk. The top corner was blurry and there were several smaller fuzzy areas, but the more than half of the viewing area remained unaffected. Several shots from different angles would give him what he needed. Evan forgot he’d planned not to leave his quarters that night. The drawing bug had him in its clutches. He waited long enough to pull off his socks and put on his shoes; one never took being on Atlantis for granted and the last thing he wanted to do was be caught up in an invasion of sorts with only socks on his feet.

His sortie to the lab was a complete success. Nobody spotted him going or returning and the lab had remained blessedly empty of anyone other than himself. Just because the botanists usually worked during the day, it didn’t mean there were times when one or more of them could be found there at night, especially if they had a pet project happening.

Back at his desk, Evan put the camera card into his computer and scrolled through the pictures he’d taken in the lab. He picked up his pencil and sketched an outline. He debated whether to leave the Rodneyosa in the pot or transplant it to something resembling the planet where it originated. The shelves of the lab took shape in the background and that decided the matter. He’d think carefully about the words to use on the facing page over the next few days. Meanwhile, he needed a more detailed shot of the top where the flowers bloomed. After accidentally clicking the mouse too many times he found himself staring at his own face.

It was more like a profile. He was looking at something. The enormous boulders that covered the landscape, if he had it right. Coughlin had pondered on the possibility of a rock slide. Reed had called him a Cassandra, to which Coughlin replied with a whole Greek mythology lecture, intent on proving Reed wrong. Checking back one, that picture showed Evan rolling his eyes. He went through the images one at a time. There were half a dozen pictures of him that had been taken on P4X-754, interspersed throughout the shots of the various plants David had been sampling. Several more pictures captured him in the Mess, the Armory and training with Ronon. There was even one of him on the East Pier, easel set up and paint brush in hand. David must have had Cadman’s camera for almost a week. No wonder he wasn’t ready to hand it over.

In themselves the images weren’t incriminating. Evan was mostly fully clothed in each one and there wass nothing that could be misconstrued as the least bit sexual, but it was clear these weren’t intended for a collection of photographs labeled ‘My Teammates’.

In the end, it didn’t take long to reach a decision. Evan saved his shots of the Rodneyosa and made sure he deleted the originals. He changed into something more respectable, picked up the camera and made his way to David’s quarters.

“You’d better come in,” said David. He waved a hand at the small table by the window. He waited until Evan sat down, then joined him. He cleared his throat. “I’m guessing you know why I wasn’t ready to return Lieutenant Cadman’s camera. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have -”

“Maybe not,” interrupted Evan, who'd considered his notebooks containing sketches of people he'd made without their knowledge or consent. Faces, hands, torsos. Many unidentifiable. But there were also pencil lines that tried to capture David excitedly examining some new specimen, as though the cure for cancer was finally in his grasp. David with dirt smudged on his face. David standing on the pier staring into the distance. “It wasn't the smartest thing to do, was it? Especially with a camera that's not yours.”

David shook his head. “I'm sorry. It won't happen again. Here, I'll delete them now if you haven't already,” he urged and held out his hand for the camera Evan still held.

“Wouldn’t you like to save them first?” asked Evan slowly. He stared intently at David. “It’s what you planned to do, isn’t it?” he added when David didn’t answer.

David flushed. “You’re okay with that?”

“If you’re okay with this,” and Evan pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. He watched uneasily as David surveyed the drawing, clearly of himself standing poised to dive into a pool of water. The background trees, the rocks and even the water were only hinted at so the viewer focused on the man.

“If that’s meant to be P53-4X6, then you left off my shorts,” accused David, smiling to take the sting out of his words.

“That’s how I wanted to see you.”

“Me, too,” said David happily, “but there might have been things in the water,” he added with an exaggerated shudder. Suddenly becoming serious, he continued, “I didn’t take anything like that of you, you know. On any camera. Didn’t want to get you into any trouble.”

Evan let David take the camera from him and watched while he transferred them onto a memory stick then delete the originals. “You know you have to apologize to Cadman in the morning.” He took back the camera.

“I know,” sighed David. “I thought I’d give her that.” He pointed to a pot containing a native orchid, its reddish-gold petals almost the color of Cadman’s hair.

“Oh, phals!” exclaimed Evan before he could stop himself, knowing full well the context was wrong, but a month of coloring orchids had become irredeemably associated in his mind. He ignored David’s quizzical expression as best he could.

“That’s right. It seems to be a Phalaenopsis.”

“I’m sure Cadman will appreciate it,” said Evan. “Do you want to watch a movie tomorrow night?” he asked, hurriedly changing the subject.

 

**

 

A month later, David’s birthday dawned bright and clear. Evan reached under his bed and brought up a neatly wrapped parcel.

“Happy birthday!” He got in a single kiss to the tip of David’s nose, before David sat up to examine his gift.

“Not a camera.” Both cameras had eventually found their way to Atlantis, but David’s had lasted less than a week before disappearing from their room while the team brokered a trade with some new allies.

“Not a camera,” agreed Lorne.

“One of your paintings?”

“Why don’t you simply open it?”

“It’s a book,” decided David after feeling it some more.

Lorne only smiled.

“It is a book,” he said, checking out the title. He turned the pages, eager to see each one of the drawings. “Well, nepenthes me!” he said with a laugh as he recognized himself in the ads, and he turned to wrap Evan in his arms.

“You got it,” said Evan, and he did.

END